As a divorce attorney and as a divorced father, I have learned some of these things the hard way—seeing unintended effects of actions on children, and also unintended effects of my own actions on my son (who is now 22 and has “filled me in” on a few things).
Often parents don’t realize the “responsibility” which children take upon themselves to attempt to make sure that both of their parents are happy. We all feel extra “sentimental” during the holidays, and our children do too. Telling your child how much you will miss them when they are away for a holiday only puts more pressure on the child—who will worry about you and whether you are happy or alone.
Children are smarter and more intuitive than you may know, and asking about who will be at the other parent’s home will be perceived as an attempt to “pry” into things. The children of a divorce or “split” have already been through enough positioning, misery, and exposure to “bad things,” and do not need even a nuance that that is going to continue—especially during the holidays!
I know that this is a repeat of number one, but it is so important!
When your children return to your home, let them relax and find a time, on their own, to talk with you about the holiday. Let your children always feel free to mention others and talk about others! There is nothing worse for a child than to feel as if he or she can’t talk about the other parent because you might get angry. Remember, your children love both of you—regardless of how the two of you feel about each other.
Asking about specific conversations or things that were said is “spying” and puts your children in a terrible position. They don’t want to resist answering questions you ask, but they also don’t want to give information which may lead to more of the fighting and misery they have already experienced. Let them stay neutral!
Help your children relax by endorsing their adventure at the other parent’s home for the holiday. Be excited for them! Let them know that you are and will be “fine” while they are gone. Don’t tell them you will be fine; let them know you are excited about the holiday time too, and tell them some of the things you will be doing (not things they would want to do with you). No “I’m going to Disney Land by myself" types of things! Do be excited about the holiday, and the opportunity your child will have to spend with the other parent, other friends, and other family members.
Don’t chastise or “guilt out” your child when you talk with them later. Remember how it was when you were with your grandparents (when you were young) and your parents called to talk with you? Did you have “time” to talk with them?
Give your child a peaceful and enjoyable holiday by observing these considerations.